A herd of African elephants drink water at a dam inside the Addo Elephant National Park. South Africa has long used contraception to keep control of the animals' numbers, says a Zimbabwean conservationist.

Cape Town - The 400km Eden to Addo Great Corridor Hike from Knysna to Addo Elephant National Park, is set to become one of the world’s iconic hikes if its founder Joan Berning has her way.

What started as a conservation project to raise money to connect three mega reserves - The Garden Route National Park, the Baviaanskloof World Heritage Site and Addo Elephant National Park - has become a pilgrimage for conservationists, photographers, botanists and adventure enthusiasts.

“We have a national treasure that competes with the best hikes worldwide,” says Berning.

Besides spectacular mountain scenery, hikers experience five biomes (Fynbos, forest, thicket, succulent karoo and nama karoo) and some of the wildest areas in South Africa. In just one of the biomes, the fynbos consists of 9 000 species, of which 6 192 are found nowhere else.

Richard Cowling, Professor of Botany and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, is thrilled by the diversity of the area: “Nowhere else in the world would you find such a diversity of biomes in such a small area, and nowhere would you find such high phylogenetic diversity of plants, crudely indicated by the large number of genera.

“In this spectacular area one can find growing side by side, a cycad - whose origin goes back hundreds of millions years – and a minute, succulent haworthia still in the throes of speciation. Yours is a truly remarkable and wholly irreplaceable corridor.”

The hike explores remote areas where the last truly free elephants, black rhino, buck, leopard and buffalo still roam without fences to hamper their movements. The hike is establishing conservation corridors between the parks to enable the free migration of many species.

“I have a dream that perhaps one day the secretive Garden of Eden elephant/s may once again connect with their kin in the Addo Elephant National Park, and our hikers are part of that dream, walking on paths where thousands of elephants once trod just 200 years ago.

“Man has destroyed large herds of not only elephants, but also buffalo, eland, zebra the cape lion and more in this special area and still continues to do so by slaughtering the leopard, jackal, black eagle and more. We are using the hike to raise awareness about conservation issues,” says Berning.

Since its inception, the Eden to Addo Corridor Initiative has achieved incredible conservation milestones. Berning says: “ We are working with farmers and conservation bodies to create vital conservation corridors and we have fundraised to transform the Keurbooms River Catchment, within the Keurbooms Corridor, back to its natural state by clearing thousands of hectares of invasive alien plants.”

All funds raised through the hikes go towards these crucial conservation projects.

Besides the 400km Eden to Addo Great Corridor Hike, there are several shorter 6-day hikes that cover part of the route.

To find out more visit www.edentoaddo.co.za or email: [email protected]